No celebrities in Botswana, just public figures?

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What do you do when you see a certain public figure queuing up for combies at the bus rank in the scorching Botswana heat; clad in clothes that do not match his/her celebrity status? Do you scream like a little girl and ask for an autograph or do you wonder why our local celebrities are not so celebrity-like? Should they not be speeding past you in expensive cars given to them in endorsement deals or from their fat bank accounts and looking like a million dollars in clothes sponsored by international clothing brands? Should they not at least be smiling at you from oversized billboards, selling you trends and opinions?


A celebrity is generally a person who is famous or widely known by people in that society, someone who is celebrated and admired publicly. It is without a doubt that Botswana produces talent worthy of international recognition – think Mpule Kwelagobe, Nigel Amos, Kaone Kario, Dipsy Selolwane. There are also some prominent public figures like like Vee, Shanti-Lo, Nnunu, Benson Phuthego, our president amongst others whose names are synonymous to greatness and admiration.


It is evident that Batswana do not embrace the celebrity culture. But who can blame them, when our local celebrities do not have the fame nor the fortune associated with a celebrated name? What about the media, is it doing enough to sieve out the legendary from the average? And most importantly do our ce- lebrities take themselves seriously enough to be taken seriously?


Personalities who need no introduction like Tumediso ‘Shanti Lo’ Loeto, do not consider themselves celebrities, despite their status. “No I am not a celebrity, but I am aware that people consider me one and they are aware of my brand or image. A celebrity is someone who is famous and they have got the fortune to go with it. And honey I don’t have that kind of money yet!” he said.


Highlighting some of the challenges that he faces as a public figure, Shanti Lo narrated a story about a security guard who gave him bad attitude whilst in a queue at a local bank. “He was so rude, passing sly comments about how celebrities think they can get away with anything. But I was right there standing in the queue just like everyone else!” he exclaimed. “The problem with Batswana is that they think they own you. People think because you are a public figure then you should be nice even when you are having a bad day. They think they can be rude and you should not react as a normal human being would.”


Representing exported talent, Lerato Motswarakgole, a young motswana national who recently joined the South African soapie Generations said in an interview with Time Out , “I am not a celebrity, absolutely not. I just work in the media.” Comparing the celebrity culture in Botswana with that in South Africa, Motshwarakgole elaborated, “We need to stop comparing ourselves to South Africa. South African celebrity culture is an off-shoot of American celebrity culture where anyone vies for 15 minutes of fame. We, in Botswana, are still very respectful and cordial and protective of our privacy and dignity for the most part. Even my fellow actors in SA, who are way more established than I am, ap- preciate the respectful nature and level-headedness of Batswana.


We must cherish that,” she noted. So what is the difference between a celebrity and a public figure or what is a public figure? Botswana Television Flava Dome presenter Mosa Podile gave her own two cents on the matter. In an interview with Time Out, she mentioned that the only celebrity in Botswana is the President himself. “He is legendary, celebrated and has the money to go with it! The rest of us popular people are broke. I mean nothing really sets me apart from the regular girl on the street except for the fact that I am on TV,” she remarked.


Media entrepreneur Lepang Ferguson explained, “We don’t embrace the celebrity culture like other countries such as South Africa or the US because it’s a cultural thing. The media industry is still young in Botswana so we cannot expect to be like these other more established countries. We cannot celebrate something that does not exist yet, but we’ll get there with time.”


However, one may ask; if we do not consider our public figures to be ‘celebrity’ enough ,then why ask for hugs and pictures?